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Jewher Ilham—"My Father Shouldn't Be in Jail At All"

Updated: Mar 12, 2022

The daughter of jailed Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti has spoken out in support of his peaceful promotion of equal rights and greater autonomy for the Turkic-speaking Uyghur ethnic group in China.

After her father, who is currently serving a life sentence for "separatism," won the prestigious 2016 Martin Ennals Award, Jewher Ilham said the following: First of all I'd like to say that this is definitely a human rights issue we are talking about, because [my father] is someone who shouldn't be in jail at all. It is definitely a human rights issue for him to be sentenced to life imprisonment. He was tried in secret, using evidence that was never made public, just selectively, and casually locked up for life, with both of his appeals rejected. When they detained him, they did that exactly when and how they pleased, and he disappeared for several months before they finally issued any formal notification of detention. It was another two months after that before they held the trial, so they broke all the rules and acted unreasonably. If that's not a human rights issue, I don't know what is. I hope that people continue to speak out for him, because the [ruling Chinese Communist Party's] Global Times newspaper put out an article saying that my father was the latest poster boy who would soon be forgotten about. I hope that everything the government says will soon be forgotten. I hope that people continue to remember him . . . because all of your remembering and your good wishes and your concern will be what saves my father from that place. When I had just arrived in the US . . . I was quite naive, and I didn't understand why my father neglected his family. I didn't realize until I started to look into it after he was detained, and get deeper and deeper into it, just how many people there were in the world who need help. While he was neglecting his own family, he was busy taking care of the wider, Uyghur family. I don't know if I can be as unselfish as my father, but I have made a start.

My father asked for equality and constitutional rights for the Uyghurs by using his words and pen. That is why the international community saw my father as a suitable candidate for the Martin Ennals award. My father is innocent. I call on the Chinese government to set my father free. My father is a selfless person and loves helping others. I learned how to be good human being from my father. I understood what my father was doing after I grew up.

In future, if it's within my power, I will start taking care of my wider family, and caring about rights activists just like my father.

I want to be able to help them.

*This article first appeared in Radio Free Europe.


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